The State of Malaysia: Ethnicity, Equity, and Reform

The State of Malaysia: Ethnicity, Equity, and Reform

The State of Malaysia: Ethnicity, Equity, and Reform

The State of Malaysia: Ethnicity, Equity, and Reform


This book provides an overview of the current state of Malaysia, looking at political and economic developments and at governance, and discussing the impact of ethnicity, patronage and the reform movement. Apart from discussing issues such as Islamisation and identity transformations within Malaysian society, it reviews policies like privatisation and provides an examination of business enterprise, exploring how control of 'corporate Malaysia' is interlinked with political developments. This study's primary focus is an analysis of why the reform movement failed to secure substantial support in the late 1990s even though many Malaysians then appeared ready to hold the government accountable for its poor record of a democratic and transparent form of governance. This volume also assesses the likelihood of change as a result of the retirement of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad


Edmund Terence Gomez

Mahathir hegemony, modernisation and reform

In June 2002, Mahathir Mohamad made an announcement of epochal proportions, informing the nation that he would resign as prime minister of Malaysia within 16 months, that is in October 2003. Mahathir, by then the longest serving prime minister in the world, had assumed the post in July 1981 proclaiming a vision to transform Malaysia into an industrialised country. Among the most notable outcomes of the Mahathir era include the rise of a large middle class, conspicuous infrastructure and technological development and considerable rural-urban migration. Mahathir's style of governance has also decisively re-shaped his country's politics. By 2002, the dominant features of Malaysian politics were serious intra-ethnic Malay divisions and deep factionalism in the party Mahathir leads, the United Malays' National Organisation (UMNO), the hegemonic party in the multi-party ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front). Considerable transformations have also occurred involving the autonomy of government institutions. The monarchy, judiciary and parliament are reputed to have lost the capacity to check the executive, while the bureaucracy, military and police have apparently become extremely subservient to the office of the prime minister where enormous power has come to be concentrated. At the same time, however, the emergence of the middle class has contributed to the rise of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that play a more pronounced role in society, including the promotion of political reforms.

Although analysts of Malaysian politics have long debated whether this country has a semi-democratic, semi-authoritarian, soft authoritarian, authoritarian or an authoritarian populist political system, probably none of them have questioned Mahathir's hegemony over the state. These qualified terms on the state of authoritarianism suggest that democratic norms do remain, but since the political crisis of 1998 it has become patently clear that even the minimal conditions necessary for the practise of democracy, particularly fair elections, adequate opportunities for political opinion-making and political organisation and minimal protection for the individual from arbitrary state power, do not prevail in Malaysia.

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